PhD Research Proposal for the SMARTLab, University of East London, UK

Version 2, September 18, 2008

Aim of the investigation

The aim of this investigation will be to explore a deductive line of reasoning and demonstration which shows that in principle it is possible to build a computer simulation (an Evolution Grid, or EvoGrid) wherein life-like phenomena may emerge spontaneously. This line of reasoning will be illustrated with a 3D computer graphic movie visualization followed by the construction of a working prototype to illustrate concepts that might be used to build a future full implementation of an EvoGrid. The line of reasoning will be followed further still to show how the EvoGrid could play a role in determining where in the Universe life might arise, and to provide a tool to “design” or “engineer” new forms of life. The inquiry will conclude with an exploration of the implications for Humanity, in terms of our ability to create tools for species and planetary survival and the philosophical and religious issues raised by the EvoGrid idea.

High Level Research Questions

1) Can an interconnected grid of computers with a suitably designed simulation environment create conditions such that life-like phenomena will be observed spontaneously arising within the simulation?
2) How could a prototype Evolution Grid (an EvoGrid) be created to illustrate the concept?
3) What might continuing the line of reasoning surrounding the EvoGrid disclose for the future of Humanity and life in the Universe?

6 October 2008: First advisory meeting! Apply the KISS principle!
Richard Gordon: Can artificial life arise from artificial non-life? In parallel to the question: can life arise from nonlife? Under the assumption that the strong a-life hypostheis is correct, that the syllogism is an appropriate way to explore the origin of life by exploring the origin of artificial life.

How do you know that you have succeeded in creating real life (ref Danielli's paper)? In what sense did Danielli synthesize life? What are the criteria to know you have succeeded with artificial life? You have to start with something that you are convinced is viable a-life. Then you can take its a-biota components and apply the tornado and see if they fall together. You could estimate a probability of them falling together from some clever mathematician and then you would be able to know if a simulation would produce the result (and in how much time?).

Details of your proposed research in lay terms

The EvoGrid: Research Proposal by Bruce Damer

Project Detail

The purpose of this research is to explore a concept I am calling the EvoGrid (Evolution Grid). This exploration consists of five parts described below: key research questions in a deductive line of reasoning behind the EvoGrid idea described in parts I and II; a design scoping element in part III; a prototyping element in part IV; and Implications for Humanity in part V


EvoGrid: shorthand for Evolution Grid, a grid of networked computers designed to support the simulation of the origins and process of evolution of life-like phenomena.
Life-like: A phenomenon exhibiting one or more of the properties of Farmer and Belin’s definitions of the elements of living systems (Farmer & Belin 1991).

II. Questions: A Line of Reasoning behind the EvoGrid/Origins (Origin of Life) Concept

1. In principle, within a mathematical framework represented within a computer simulation can life-like processes or phenomena emerge spontaneously?

2. Can life-like phenomena within the simulation, if continuing to execute, develop into a valid facsimile of a simple living system?

3. If one runs a simulation with new properties or starting parameters will other variations of life-like phenomena also emerge? In this case will this indicate that there exists a dimension or axis of a possibility space of simulations which will also permit the generation of life-like phenomena?

4. Over time through the addition of more processing power and enhanced methodologies would one or more of these simulations converge on a functional equivalence to a physical system such as a chemical fluid, or an earthen solid?

5. Therefore would the arising of life-like phenomena within such a functionally equivalent simulation suggest that the structures and patterns in the simulator would be able to be realized in the physical medium?

6. As processing power, environment sensing and modelling improves, could one then simulate a range of known or hypothetical physical environments to carry out the experiment of generating life-like phenomena suitable to exist for those environments?

7. As molecular scale manufacturing and bio-engineering improves would it then be possible to fabricate the life-like structures emerging within the simulation and emplace them within the extant physical medium? If the life-like structures released into a physical medium retain their structure and are able to function and possibly reproduce and adapt, would they then be equivalent to biologically evolved entities?

8. If the above were all possible, would it then be possible to employ the previously described system to ‘emerge’ or ‘engineer’ new forms of living entities or living systems which are tuned to physical environments not currently known to support life (see part II below)?

9. Would it be possible to use such a system to predict where in the universe life might be able to emerge and therefore has some likelihood of being found?

II. Line of Reasoning behind the EvoGrid/Designer (Intelligent Design) Concept Variation

1. If a simulation has the property to support the spontaneous emergence of life-like phenomena then will it then also have the property to sustain the execution and continued adaptation of human-designed and introduced life-like structures?

2. Could such a simulation therefore serve as a test-bed to support engineered evolution, a marriage of evolutionary processes (accelerated in the simulation) and engineering, creating a new discipline of engineering and new tools for Humanity?

III. The Design Space of EvoGrid Simulations (Origins and Designer)

1. A unified look at the design space for the EvoGrid can be considered in terms of axes on the graph. For variations in simulation you can have:

Driven by natural capabilities of the universe and the process of evolution extending:
Variations in emergent design (overlap with biologically evolved designs)

Boosted by intelligence (observation, creativity) extending:
Variation in introduced design (overlaps with or informed by emergent or biological design)

2. A second set of axes surrounds the functional fidelity of simulation vis-à-vis physical environments generating:

The proportion of viability of life-like structures as biologically equivalent entities

It will be a goal of this inquiry to plot and explore the axes and interior of this graph and to explore the design space suggested therein.

IV. Prototyping the EvoGrid

An additional goal of this research is to create a design prototype to illustrate how the EvoGrid might be built in a full future implementation. A first step to this will be the creation of a computer graphics movie to illustrate the concept. Next, a prototype will be built in software. Two prototyping elements will be employed for this: a finite state machine called Nerves created by myself in 1995, and Digital Spaces (DSS), an open source 3D simulation platform created by my company, DigitalSpace, under contract by NASA. Other components may be included as necessary.

V. Implications for Humanity

The final part to this inquiry would be to consider the larger implications for Humanity of the future success of one or more EvoGrid implementations.

The line of inquiry represented by the EvoGrid concept strikes at the heart of Humanity’s search for meaning through the understanding of our origins. This is becoming one of the central philosophical and religious discourses of our times (Damer 2008). If a future EvoGrid implementation was to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that in principle the phenomenon that gives rise to life can work in simulations of increasing fidelity, then it suggests that the universe itself possesses the innate capacity to generate life. This would put into serious question the entire human concept of God or any other supernatural agency as a creator of life.

The full implementation of EvoGrid/Origins or EvoGrid/Designer with molecular nanofabrication of physical entities able to live in a variety of environments on and off the Earth would put into the hands of Humanity the singularly most powerful tool since the rise of intelligence. It would both give us new capabilities to meet the challenges posed by calamitous changes that we have unleashed in the Earth’s biosphere, but also pose ethical challenges and technological dangers as novel forms of evolved and engineered physical life might begin to propagate.

Literature Review

J. Doyne Farmer defined a living thing as a pattern in spacetime, able to reproduce itself using a stored information blueprint, employing an internal metabolism driving interdependent parts to interact with and deal with a chaotic environment. Above all, he put forth that a lineage of living things also possesses the ability to evolve through time (Farmer & Belin 1991). Others have argued further that human culture, whether it is in the form of writings, music, ideas and the arts also employs some of the same underlying methods to spread and evolve (Dawkins 1986). Therefore, beyond the physical laws of nature, the most powerful force shaping the universe is what we might call “evolution technology”.

In the past half century, the digital computer and the networks that connect them have grown into a formidable tool affecting all of human affairs. From its very beginnings, the digital medium has been used to experiment with evolution technology (Dyson 1998). In the 1980s, a subset of this effort was given the name “artificial life” (Levy 1993). Practitioners of artificial life produced compelling examples of mutating genomes (Ray 1991) evolving virtual creatures (Sims 1994) and petri-dish biological worlds (Ventrella 1998). More recently molecular biologists, roboticists, artists and game developers have used the broader tenants of evolution technology to push the state of the art in their fields. In addition my own published work as a pioneer of the virtual worlds medium (Damer 1997), and generative artificial life arts (Damer 1998) as well as simulation for space (DigitalSpace 2008) will be brought into play in this effort. The inspiration for this research comes from a chapter titled "Hoyle's Tornado and the Origin of Artificial Life" in (Seckbach, Gordon 2008).


Barbalet, T. 2007, Biota Podcast, Available at: http://www.biota.org/podcast

Damer, B. F. 1997, Avatars: Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet,
PeachPit Press, Berkeley CA.

Damer. B.F., Furmanski T. 2005, Nerve Garden, in Artificial Life Models in Software, Adamatzky, Andrew; Komosinski, Maciej (Eds.)

Damer B. F. 2008, “The God Detector” in Divine Action and Natural Selection, Questions of Science and Faith in Biological Evolution, R. Gordon, J. Seckbach eds,
World Scientific, Singapore (Fall 2008).

Dawkins, R. 1986, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design,
W.W. Norton & Company.

DigitalSpace publications and projects 1995-2008, on the web at http://www.digitalspace.com
Dyson, G. 1997, Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence,
Perseus Books.

Grisel, O. 2007, EvoGrid, Evolutionary Computation framework for Python, available on the web at: https://launchpad.net/evogrid

Levy, S. 1993, Artificial Life: The Quest for a New Creation,
Vintage Books.

Farmer Doyne J., d’a Belin A. 1991. Artificial Life: The Coming Evolution. In : Langton, C., C. Taylor, J. D. Farmer, & S. Rasmussen [eds], Artificial Life II, Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, vol. XI, pp. 815-840
Addison-Wesley, Redwood City, CA.

Ray, T. S. 1991. An approach to the synthesis of life. In : Langton, C., C. Taylor, J. D. Farmer, & S. Rasmussen [eds], Artificial Life II, Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, vol. XI, pp. 371-408
Addison-Wesley, Redwood City, CA.

Seckbach, J. Gordon, R, DIVINE ACTION AND NATURAL SELECTION Science, Faith and Evolution,
World Scientific (forthcoming, 2008)

Sims, K. 1994, Evolving Virtual Creatures,
Computer Graphics SIGGRAPH 1994 Proceedings, pp. 15-22.

Ventrella, J 1998, Designing Emergence in Animated Artificial Life Worlds, Heudin, J. C, ed, Lecture Notes In Computer Science; Vol. 1434 Proceedings of the First International Conference on Virtual Worlds, pp. 143-155
Springer-Verlag, London.

Zhengyou X., Yichuan J. 2004, ‘A Novel Artificial Life Ecosystem Environment Model’,
6th International Conference on Cellular Automata for Research and Industry, CRI 2004, Amsterdam.

Plan of Work

This is a practice-based PhD which undertakes to produce a line of reasoning including a computer graphic visulization leading up to a prototype simulation to illustrate the EvoGrid concept. This concept will be developed in concert with NASA, universities and artificial life developers. My method includes site based investigations using my own and other developers’ major practical projects as case studies (Adamatzky & Komosinski 2005) and an Artificial Life Grid (Zhengyou & Yichuan 2004) and will be developed and discussed together with the theoretical consideration of the contributions this work makes to scholarship in the fields of technology, philosophy, the arts, and religion. The work plan includes the following elements:

Justification and architecture development of the concept

Storyboard and script of the visualization

Development of 1.0 prototcol for EvoGrid communication and view portals

Grid-level communications of the EvoGrid

View portal to Grid level communications implemented

Employing 3D scene rendering to view the EvoGrid simulation layer

Demonstration of full working prototype and tie-in to conceptual development

Publication of visualization and prototype materials, codebase, scripts and protocols to full Internet community

Research Methodologies

I will employ the tenants of architecture development, rapid prototyping around protocols and collaborative work with geographically distributed teams that is common in web 2.0 industries (O’Reilly 2005). The creation of the visualization and EvoGrid prototype will use one or more open source 3D platforms to represent events and objects. Results obtained in runs of the prototype will be presented visually to the reviewers.

References for Work Cited

Adamatzky, A., Komosinski, M. 2005, Artificial Life Models in Software,

O’Reilly, T. 2005, What Is Web 2.0, Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, Available at: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

Zhengyou X., Yichuan J. 2004, ‘A Novel Artificial Life Ecosystem Environment Model’,
6th International Conference on Cellular Automata for Research and Industry, CRI 2004, Amsterdam.

Summary of the elements of the investigation that are novel, original or creative and may constitute production of knowledge or an original contribution to knowledge

The elements of the investigation that are novel will be a demonstration application that will illustrate how to build a distributed simulation grid designed to support spontaneous emergence of life-like phenomena that can be experienced through 3D virtual worlds portal. This EvoGrid will have important implications as a tool for science, technology and will even have significance in the fields of the arts, philosophy and religion.

Schedule of work and details of facilities available for the investigation (including funding and location)

February-July 2008: preliminary work on skills acquisition and critical contextualization/literature review & annotated bibliography, refining research questions for The EvoGrid.

August-October 2008: research question refinement and draft introductory script and storyboard for the 3D computer visualization movie for The EvoGrid.

November 2008- February 2009: completion of visualization and documentation of 0.5 EvoGrid platform protocols and first trial code.

March-June 2009: implementation of 1.0 EvoGrid protocol with demonstration run.

July-September 2009: continued research and writing of line of reasoning and exploration of Design Space.

October-November 2009: further trial runs and research on Implications for Humanity.

December 2009: submission of first full draft thesis to supervisory team

January-June 2010: presentation of EvoGrid results to select audiences, next draft of thesis.

July-September 2010: complete revision of thesis/ preparation for submission.

October-November 2010: complete revision of thesis/ preparation for submission.

January-February 2011: presentation of The EvoGrid to SMARTLab audience and submission of complete revision of thesis.

Facilities available for the Investigation

The SMARTlab studios in London provide all necessary facilities for research and writing up of the work and for multimedia investigations of case studies in progress.
DigitalSpace, NASA’s Ames Research Centre and related facilities in Los Angeles, CA are wiling and able to provide further support as needed for the field work.

The USC ICT lab run by Dr Jackie Morie (co-supervisor) also hosts ample research facilities which have been offered to me for this study.


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Based on a work at www.evogrid.org.